Warnings of 'carnage' at Edinburgh Airport as private hire firm needs to double drivers 'to stand still'
Black cab drivers have warned of ‘carnage’ at Edinburgh Airport ahead of changes that will see a private hire firm take over as sole operator of taxi services for the first time.
After a joint bid by black cab companies City Cabs and Central Radio Taxis was rejected, private hire firm Capital Cars will provide both the black cab and private hire operation at Edinburgh Airport from April 14. According to figures seen by the Evening News the contract is estimated to be worth £15.7m in 2023 and up to £100 million over five years.
The move from two operators to one sole provider has sparked warnings from the union of a lack of available black cabs and accessibility fears for those with disabilities. Now cabbies have warned it will result in a significant shortage of all vehicles at the airport. Bosses from City Cabs, which has served the airport for 13 years have branded the change a commercial decision that will result in a ‘reduced offering’.
Steven McDermott, vice chairman of City Cabs, said: “In order to provide an unparalleled level of service to passengers arriving at Edinburgh airport, City Cabs placed a joint bid with Central Radio Taxis, which would have provided over 900 taxis, along with a solid financial offering. This, combined with a separate private hire operation would have seen over 1300 vehicles at the airport giving passengers a clear choice.
“City Cabs were notified that the total income provided by Capital Cars for sole access was substantially greater than our combined offerings. Since City Cabs have been successfully serving passengers there for more than 13 years, we are disappointed with the commercial decision that EAL has made. While the private hire operator halted their service during the lockdown period due to a shortfall in passenger numbers, our drivers remained, sometimes for extremely long periods of time, to ensure that any passengers that did arrive were transported home safely.
“City Cabs will continue to service our loyal customers, passengers with disabilities, and any that are unhappy with the newly reduced offering, by collecting them from the designated pre-booked area which can be booked on the phone or through our smartphone app.”
Airport chiefs said the change would ensure "a steady supply of vehicles for passengers” and they were confident that Capital Cars could fulfil the contract to provide enough private hire and black cabs. They dismissed claims of a shortage of vehicles as ‘speculation’.
The total number of vehicles currently serving the airport is 800. Capital Cars has 400 drivers currently registered according to its website and has launched a recruitment drive that aims to double that and hire another 400 to 500 drivers to service the rank.
Black cab drivers told the Evening News scores have ‘snubbed’ attempts to recruit them due to a number of concerns about the affect of the contract on passengers and the commission drivers will have to pay to the company for every hire. It’s claimed only a handful so far have signed up.
With two weeks until the changes come into force, one cab driver warned there’s ‘not a hope in hell’ they can make up the predicted shortfall in vehicles.
He said: "They are charging 17.5 per cent commission on all fares, it’s extortionate. That isn’t going to win over black cab drivers. Their own drivers took strike action months ago over their charges but it seems they have not learned from that. Even if a couple of hundred more drivers are recruited in the next couple of weeks there will still be a few hundred vehicles short. Tonnes of black cab drivers have snubbed their offer. There isn’t a hope in hell they can more than double their drivers in time – and they need to do that just to stand still. With 800 vehicles from two providers under the current contract you still get queues at busy times. It’s going to be total carnage. Passengers will end up paying more on fares, an extra booking fee and journey times will be longer because they don't have bus lane access.”
Under draft plans due to go to public consultation this year Edinburgh’s Public Transport Action Plan proposes extending the bus lane restrictions hours to 7am to 7pm. It’s claimed the changes will create bottlenecks as all taxis will have to be pre-booked at a terminal at the rank. Passengers will be charged a booking fee of 80p.
Capital Cars and Edinburgh Airport were contacted for comment.